Mailata Recovers from Early Mistake to Pass First Test
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - The start was fairly predictable but it also probably obfuscated the ending for Jordan Mailata in his first organized football game at any level.
The 6-foot-8, 350-pound project, who was a seventh-round pick in April's draft as a former Australian Rules rugby player, played the entire second half in a 31-14 preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and actually held his own after a shaky indoctrination to his new career.
Understandably nervous Mailata described his initial pass set as being on "jelly legs" while allowing a strip sack of Joe Callahan by Pittsburgh edge rusher Olasunkanmi Adeniyi.
“It was tough, especially the first play,” Mailata acknowledged. “It was really tough to wrap my head around. It was my worst nightmare, first play giving up a sack. Obviously, I had to learn from there and adopt that next play mentality. I just focused on the next play."
The short memory helped Mailata, who settled down from there. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Mailata finished his night allowing the sack but just two total pressures during his 32 reps at left tackle, hardly the worst debut in the world for the Eagles' greenest player.
“I knew I was going to play a half," he said. “I tried to prepare mentally for that. I wrapped my head around the first snap. Then the jelly legs came in. But I learned from that. Now, the only place I can go is up. I tried to finish strong."
Mailata has consistently lauded offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland throughout camp and fellow rookie Aaron Evens for helping him get used to the sport early. Now the two proven Philadelphia left tackles -- Jason Peters and Halapoulivaati Vaitai -- have also taken the massive Mailata under their wings.
“Everyone was helping me out after I f@#$%^ that first one up," Mailata explained. “Excuse my language. I learned from my mistake."
The mistake was losing leverage after a very impressive and athletic slide step that both Lane Johnson and Vaitai often use.
“I learned it from those guys," Mailata admitted. “Obviously, Stout is big on being in the snap count and beating the d-end to a spot. So that was a big emphasis. ... To get that bunny hop in and try to imitate what Lane and Big V do."
Later in the game Mailata had some positive plays, including a nice block that sprung running back Josh Adams for a 15-yard gain.
“The vets said, ‘You’re going to make mistakes. When you make them, just focus on the next play and we’ll fix it up the next day.’ That’s what I did," Mailata said. "I learned from that and tried to play on and put up some good minutes."
Perhaps the most surprising part of the debut was Mailata actually drawing two penalties on the Steelers' front -- an offside penalty and a neutral-zone infraction -- something that's a testament to Stoutland's teaching ability.
“Coach Stout, at training, says if a guy jumps, you go, ‘Ooga booga booga,’ " Mailata joked. “That’s what he calls it. Ooga booga booga. So, as soon as I saw him jump, I went, ‘Ooga booga booga.’
"In Stout we trust."
Thursday was just the first test in what could be a multi-year project that starts with the practice squad or even injured reserve because Mailata is dealing with a knee injury from his rugby days.
“I was excited for him,” said head coach Doug Pederson. “To watch him, to see him. I know he was a little nervous there early and once he kind of settled in, I thought he did some good things. But it's going to - it's a work in progress with him, and we knew that going into it. He's going to get a lot of time this preseason to play, and he'll just continue to get better."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen